Growing economy continues to fuel Northwest Arkansas restaurant expansion

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 479 views 

It should come as no surprise that Benton and Washington counties continue to see restaurant and retail expansion given the stronger overall economy and active population growth experienced in the region.

“Restaurants follow rooftops and generally speaking there is still a ton of interest in restaurant expansion in this region,” said Alan Cole, executive broker with Colliers International. “It’s part of a national phenomenon. … Landlords and developers really want restaurants in part because more of the retail shopping is going to online formats and they know restaurants providing good food and experiences will drive tangible sales and steady foot traffic.”

A number of new restaurant venues have recently had permits go through the Arkansas Department of Health and Cole expects this year and next to be active in the Northwest Arkansas restaurant sector given aggressive developers, cheap money and the deals that are being presented.

There are several new venues in Rogers planned with Raising Cane’s chicken already set to take over in the same location as the former Bob Evans restaurant which closed last year. Demolition of the Bob Evans facility is underway at 4200 W. Walnut in Rogers and construction at the new location is set to begin in the coming weeks.

Newk’s Eatery has a new location planned near the Pinnacle Country Club in West Rogers. This is the second area location for the southeast regional fast casual chain that opened in Fayetteville more than a year ago. Also on West Walnut Street in Rogers Captain D’s seafood has eyed its first location in Benton County, though no specific address has yet been provided. The seafood quick serve venue recently opened its first regional location at 909 S. Thompson in Springdale.

While not new to Rogers the Fish City Grill has eyed a new stand-alone location at 2003 S. Bellview Road. The large scale development calls for a 4,390-square-foot restaurant construction which was reviewed by city planners and requires no further approval, according to Lori Ericsson, assistant city planner. She said new Fish City Grill location is the same restaurant now leasing space at Pinnacle Promenade Mall just a few blocks away.

Also on tap in Rogers is a new location for Harbor Freight Tools, according to a permit filed with the state health department. The tool retailer has a store in west Springdale. Workers in the store confirmed that a Rogers location is coming. It is unclear if it will replace the Springdale store or be a second store for the retailer. The proposed Rogers location is in the 2700 block of West Walnut Ave. according to the health department permit.

Raising Cane’s Chicken has planned a second restaurant in Fayetteville, after opening its first Northwest Arkansas venue last year near the new Whole Foods shopping area on North College Boulevard. This new site is slated to be at 1788 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., near the University of Arkansas.

Shipley’s Donuts has also planned three new locations in the county: 3973 Elm Springs Road in Springdale; 1032 Henri De Tontitown Blvd. in Springdale; and 2920 Martin Luther King Blvd. in Fayetteville.

A food staple in Fayetteville, Sassy’s Red House has been eyeing a second location for months and recently scored a deal to set up at 1290 Steamboat Drive just off West Wedington in Fayetteville. Sassy’s will move into the former El  Matador restaurant adjacent from the new Holiday Inn Express – a stone’s throw from Interstate 49.

Cole said restaurant venues such as Sassy’s, Foghorn’s or JJ’s Bar and Grill, offer experiences in addition to good food. He said that is the secret sauce to success in the competitive restaurant sector.

He said other shifts are also taking place in the restaurant sector. Consumers have shifted down to more quick-serve but the fast casual chains are competing head-to-head and looking for niche opportunities. For instance, Uncle Maddio’s Pizza and Moe’s Southwest Grill are two regional chains that have taken a chance in the region offering “make-it-fresh-your-way” entrees in a quick-serve/fast casual format.

Cole said regionals chains are always looking at Northwest Arkansas in part because of the growing population and diversity. For instance, he said Whataburger is not a new chain but drawing on the large number of Texas transplants and students at the UA, the hamburger chain had a record breaking opening in Fayetteville and has since added three new sites with a fourth coming soon in east Fayetteville.

“I don’t expect this wave on new restaurant openings is anyway near finished,” he said.

One of the most underserved areas in the region aside from Bella Vista is Pleasant Grove Road in southwest Rogers, Cole said.

“There is a huge gap in services at Pleasant Grove and I see that as perhaps the best opportunity for growth in the market given the work the city has done with local road access to that area. As Pinnacle Hills and Walnut and Walton areas fill up, Pleasant Grove Road and the Lowell Highway 264 area to the West should see more action.”